As executive director of the recently renamed Helen Gordon Davis Centre for Women, Ann Madsen has led the transformation of this nearly 40-year-old nonprofit. Under her guidance, the Centre has strengthened its core programs and launched a series of new programs that serve girls and woman from 5 to 55 and older, and run the gamut from employment services, counseling and wellness, and battling substance abuse. Madsen intends to soon launch a program called “Women Building Futures” that will help women learn the trades, and was recently awarded a $750,000 grant from the Small Business Association (SBA) to become the only SBA-designated women’s business centre on the West Coast of Florida.
“The Helen Gordon Davis Centre for Women is like six nonprofits in one and is Tampa Bay’s only holistic development center for women,” Madsen says.
Madsen grew up in upstate New York and has a bachelor’s degree in History from Trinity College in Burlington,Vermont. She pursued her passion to become a journalist, and landed her first job as a reporter at the Syracuse Newspapers. She went on to become one of the first female editors for the Gannett Newspaper Group, but after her son John was born, started a public relations company so she could have more time for her family. She was able to combine her two loves—journalism and fundraising—when she served as Director of Advancement for the Poynter Institute. Madsen has amassed a wonderful sheaf of memories from her time there, including visits with the likes of Ted Koppel, Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather and Soledad O’Brien., a personal tour of the New York Times from Arthur Sulzberger and lunch at the Washington Post hosted by Don Graham
It is in her current professional incarnation, however, that Madsen has found the opportunity to pursue another of her passions: helping women be successful and achieve their goals.
“Today, I have the best job in the world where I lead a dedicated team working to help women in the Tampa Bay Region to succeed both personally and professionally,” says Madsen.
What do you think is the secret to your family’s success?
Our family’s success can be directly traced back to my parents who taught us all the importance of family, friends and relationships. I was born into a large Irish family– I have a sister and five brothers. Now, I am a mom to a son and daughter. I also have a wonderful relationship with my daughter-in-law, Kristen, and my four stepsons. My mom used to say that even as adults, “we all live in each other’s pockets.” She meant that we stay connected and do what we can to help each other. No matter what comes our way, we watch out for each other and we laugh a lot. Humor is really the secret ingredient in our family’s success.
What is your biggest fear?
As a fund development professional, I learned to be fearless; to embrace opportunities, try new challenges, to meet as many people as possible and to take some risks.
On a personal level, as a mom, I always worry about my kids even though they are now grown. I think it is part of a mom’s DNA to worry.
What advice would you give to other women?
There is so much I have learned along the way. Here is my top 10 list:
- Be yourself.
- Integrity is the most important virtue you have.
- Family first. No matter what.
- Don’t be afraid of public speaking.
- Stand up for the things you believe are important.
- Don’t worry about the small things.
- Tell the truth.
- Keep trying new things.
- Calories do have consequences.
- And, life is better with dogs.
What is your proudest moment?
On a professional level this year, it has been hosting our inaugural Waves of Change Luncheon to pay tribute to Helen Gordon Davis and present our first Women’s Leadership Award to the legendary Gloria Steinem. I have led a lot of major events in my career, but there was something different about this one. There was an energy in the room unlike anything I have experienced before. Women were mesmerized by Gloria and inspired by Helen. Even now, weeks later, we continue to hear such positive comments.
On a personal level, my proudest moments always are the accomplishments of my children. All are very accomplished in their professional careers. My son has built a successful career as a real estate agent in Washington, D.C., my daughter-in-law is a fund development officer for a D.C. hospital, and my daughter Molly is devoted to helping children as a director of school counseling. One of the proudest moments for all of us was being invited to the Oval Office by President George W. Bush as he thanked my daughter Molly for her work in his administration. It was a thrill. She worked at The White House Communications Office for three years which offered us so many unique opportunities: Invitations to the annual Christmas party and other holiday events, behind-the-scenes tours and greeting the President when his chopper landed on the South lawn.
What is your biggest achievement?
Professionally, I think it is the culmination of all my career experiences that provided the opportunity for me to steward this dynamic organization. I stay connected with colleagues I have met along the way and have built some new relationships that help us to make great things happen here. There has never been a better time to lead a center for women because there is now so much focus on women locally, nationally and globally.
What makes you happy?
That’s easy: spending time with my family. One of our happiest adventures was visiting Ireland.
How do you relax and take time for yourself?
A glass of wine, a shopping excursion, traveling, lunch at one of the many great restaurants and spending time with my husband and our two Spring Spaniels, Barney and Thelma Lou.
What kind of message would you like to give women in the area or in this community?
The power of collaboration is such a force. Help each other to be successful and don’t be afraid to share the credit when things go well. I have found so many women willing to give of their time and talents to help others. What a great community!
What else would you like to share with our readers? About being a mom, about your work?
I have always believed in family first. No matter what. When my children were younger, I was fortunate to have been able to include them in some of the things I did at work. Based on my experience, I do believe women can have it all: a great family life and a wonderful career.
How do you enjoy or draw information from the magazine?
I enjoy everything about the magazine, the design, the content, and all of the interesting information about what is happening in our community. I love the advertising too. I learn a lot from this publication. I also appreciate Tampa Bay Parenting’s willingness to provide community support for nonprofits, including our Centre for Women and Centre for Girls.
What is your favorite thing to do with your kids in Tampa Bay?
My kids live in Washington, D.C., so when they visit, we try to pack in so much of what Tampa Bay has to offer. We love to have a relaxing day at the beach; go to the Saturday Morning Market in St. Pete; shopping, shopping shopping, of course; and dining at great restaurants, particularly those on the water where the views are spectacular. We also find Tampa Bay is a convenient home base from which to visit all the other great destinations in Florida.
Who is your biggest inspiration or role model?
I have a few. My mom was an extraordinary woman who taught me so much. I admired her strength, intelligence and her ability to laugh even through difficult days. My dad was a brilliant and courageous businessman who built a company and at the same time, always found ways to help other people. Most recently, I have been inspired by Helen Gordon Davis, the founder of The Centre for Women who demonstrated such remarkable courage and resilience against so many odds. I have learned so much from her. Her fortitude and foresight prove that one person can make such a difference in a community.